El Ghriba -The oldest synagogue in Africa
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP
About 2,000 Jews still live in Tunisia
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP
Festival commemorates Jewish victory over suffering
Photo: AFP
Thousands flock to Tunisia
About 4,000 Jews attend El Ghriba festival in Tunisia, reflecting time of relative peace and eased Middle East tensions
About 4,000 Jews flocked to Africa’s oldest synagogue in Tunisia, in what participants said reflects an easing in Middle East tensions.


"I'm feeling that we are in a time of relative peace and we can again live as friends and neighbors with Muslims and Arabs," an Israeli visitor from the Beer Shebv area, Joseph Saban, said, in a view repeatedly expressed at the festival celebrated at the El Ghriba synagogue.


"The number of people participating in the El Ghriba festival rose after falling sharply since 2000," Monique Hayoun said, who flew from Paris for the two-day festival of prayer, dance, song and bonfires that commemorates Jewish victory over suffering.


"This year the attendance was the highest...more than 4,000 people took part," she said.


Many of the Jewish participants in this rare festival on Arab land said they believe prospects for peace in the Middle East has improved since the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian chairman.


"I'm confident that Israelis and Arabs could live together again in peace despite more than 50 years of conflict," Haddsuk Makhlove said, as he joined others to dance to Arab and Israeli folk songs in the southern Tunisian city.


Dancing throughout the night


The number of Jewish festivalgoers shrank from more than 7,000 to several hundred over the past five years due to intifada and the bombing of El Ghriba synagogue in 2002.


The suicide bomber rammed a tanker laden with cooking gas into the synagogue killing 21 people, mostly German tourists. At the time, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack.


"People appeared to have forgotten about the El Ghriba attack," Hayoun said, who left Tunisia to live in France. "We danced, chanted and chatted most of the night but no one talked about it."


The Jewish community in Tunisia has whittled down to about 2,000 over the past 50 years, while 20,000 Tunisian Jews live in France and about 30,000 in Israel.


The Tunisian government encouraged the festival and even deployed security personnel to protect the participants.


However, the government is reluctant to authorize direct flights from Israel fearing opposition critics may claim this to be a prelude for closer ties with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.


"It would make it easier to come here if there were direct flights from Israel," Jacqueline Haddousk said, adding, "Now, to come here we have to transit by Turkey or Italy or France. I'm sure at least 100,000 Israelis would visit Tunisia each year if there were a direct air link." 


פרסום ראשון: 05.27.05, 19:42
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